Four years ago, Democrats looked at the grandstands being built in front of the White House and felt robbed. This time around, with not even a recount to gnash their teeth over as they watch the barricades go up around another Bush inauguration, they just feel -- bad.
"The last time, there were so many legitimacy questions it was just much higher drama," says Joe Lockhart, the former White House spokesman and one of several Clinton alumni who parachuted into John Kerry's campaign when it was floundering last summer. "This time is less dramatic, but more depressing."
Defiance or defeat, either emotion apparently is reason enough for many Kerry supporters to get well out of area code 202 during the other party's party. Just as in January 2001, plenty of Washington Democrats are planning to be Anywhere But Here during tomorrow's GOP victory celebration. For these partisan refugees, the lure of sunnier climes or mountain hideaways -- heck, how about a basement safe room in Gaithersburg? -- beats the prospect of streets filled with Red State revelers drunk on patronage and cash-bar bourbon amid security that promises to be as welcoming of dissent as Pyongyang in one of its grouchier moods.
"I'm going to the Arizona desert," said Ellen R. Malcolm, president of Emily's List and one of the powers behind America Coming Together, the Democrats' massive -- and ultimately futile -- get-out-the-vote effort in November. "Watching cactus grow is a lot more exciting than watching Republicans in fur coats listening to George Bush give a speech." Want to watch cactus grow? The venerable Saguaro Lake Ranch Resort in Arizona's Tonto National Forest offers cabins and lodge rooms starting at $125 per person double. Info: 480-984-2194, www.saguarolakeranch.com.
It's never fun to lose, but some Democrats say the second shutout in a row is particularly galling. Not only did the past four years of revenge fantasies come to nothing, but they now face four more years -- at least -- of somebody else writing government policy. "As painful as it was in 2000, at least we were at the end of a very successful eight years of the Clinton administration," said Stephanie Cutter, director of communications for the Kerry campaign and a former Clinton White House staffer. "Now we know what it's like to be out of office, and it kind of hurts. A lot of Democrats I know are getting out of town, even if it's just to the Eastern Shore." The 1860s-era Brampton Inn near Chestertown, Md., offers last-minute, day-of bookings on any available room -- even luxury suites -- for $135 on midweek nights (regular rates range from $135 to $255). Info: 410-778-1860, www.bramptoninn.com.
For her part, Cutter, now a senior adviser to Ted Kennedy, plans to be sunning on Miami's South Beach tomorrow. "I'll be sitting on the beach, not reading a newspaper," she says. At press time, the last-minute travel service Site 59 was offering a three-night stay (Thursday through Sunday) at the Tudor Hotel in South Beach starting at $369.86 per person double, including airfare. Info: www.site59.com.
Unlike the last inauguration -- when the Florida of hanging chads and Katherine Harris had lost much of its winter appeal for Democrats -- there's nothing to keep Kerry-Edwards supporters out of the Sunshine State this time around. (They won't even risk running into Gov. Jeb. He'll be in Washington, presumably, partying with his brother.)
"This time it seems like Ohio was more the scene of the crime," Cutter said. "I don't think many people will be vacationing in Ohio right now."
Mike McCurry, who served as a Kerry spokesman late in the campaign, said he is happily obliged to be elsewhere on the big day. "By sheer luck of the draw, my mother's birthday is January 20th," McCurry said. "My brother and I are flying down to Abbeville, South Carolina, and we're going to take her out for dinner, which is just a splendid way to celebrate the inaugural, I think." McCurry didn't say whether he would have stiffed his mom had John Kerry been the one taking office on her birthday. The Abbeville Chamber of Commerce Web site lists four restaurants in the little town near the Georgia border, one of which is an ice cream parlor and one a McDonald's. It does show several beautiful antebellum B&Bs. Info: 864-366-4600, www.abbevillescchamber.com.
John Kerry himself, back in his role as the junior senator from Massachusetts, plans to attend his opponent's swearing-in, according to his office. Whether he'll hang around for the parade or the dancing was undetermined, given that the senator just returned Sunday from a two-week trip to the Middle East. "Senator Kerry has attended every inauguration since he took office, and he looks forward to attending this one as well," said Kerry spokeswoman April Boyd.